A while ago, I tried a dish called ‘Scallop Xao Tuong’ at the Café Indochine Vietnamese Restaurant in Ottawa. It was described on the menu as being Scallops with Eggplant and Zucchini in a Fermented Black Bean Sauce and, while it was really delicious, I was a little disappointed in that there was almost no hint of black beans to give it the really rich umami flavor I was expecting. I also noted, in my review of the restaurant that, in addition to the eggplant and zucchini, there were all sorts of other vegetables included and that I felt the end-result was too ‘busy’.
I decided that I would try and improve upon the basic theme at home and my idea was to up the amount of salted black bean, replace the tiny bay scallops used by the restaurant with slices of large sea scallop, and keep the vegetable component to a much simpler minimum…
- 3/4 lb. large Sea Scallops, thinly sliced horizontally;
- 2 cups Eggplant, cut in small chunks with skin attached;
- ½ cup Red Bell Pepper, cut into small bite sized pieces;
- 1 small handful of Basil, coarsely chopped if the leaves are very large;
- 2 tbsp. Salted Black Beans;
- 3 cloves Garlic, sliced;
- 1 tbsp. Sugar;
- 3 tbsp. Shaoxing Wine;
- ½ cup Chicken Stock;
- 1 tbsp. Oyster Sauce;
- 1 tsp. Light Soy Sauce;
- 1 tsp. Salt;
- 1 tsp. Cornstarch, plus extra for dusting;
First, stir the soy sauce into the scallops and, in a separate bowl, toss the eggplant with the salt. Leave these aside for 15 minutes or so.
Now, mix together the sugar, Shaoxing wine and black beans and, when the beans are softened somewhat, coarsely mash them with a fork, leaving plenty of large fragments. Finally, mix the teaspoon of cornstarch with enough water to make a smooth paste and then stir it into the stock along with the oyster sauce.
When you are ready to cook, toss the scallops with just enough corn-starch to coat them lightly. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over high heat and then, working in batches, quickly sear the scallop slices on both sides, removing them to a pan for the time being.
Rinse the eggplant chunks in just a little water to remove excess salt and then pat dry. As with the scallops, dust the pieces lightly with cornstarch and briefly pan fry until the white flesh is just starting to turn golden. Set aside for now.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or other deep pan over high heat and then add the garlic. When the garlic is just starting to brown slightly, add the bell pepper and sauté until softened.
Add the black bean mixture and, after a few seconds, stir in the scallops and eggplant, tossing until they are heated through.
Finally, add the stock mixture, stir until the sauce thickens and then add the basil leaves. As soon as these wilt, plate and serve hot.
Well, I was very impressed with the taste of this experiment as it came out just as I was aiming for. Unfortunately, the dish wasn’t quite as visually appealing as I hoped. In part, this can be put down to the black beans as the ‘juice’ they make has a very inky blackness to it, but I also seared the scallop and eggplant a little too darkly. Pristine white scallops and brighter colors to the veggies would have improved this, I think. I’ll try it again though…